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University of Iowa News Release

Oct. 24, 2005

Oct. 31-Nov. 3 Readings Begin With 'Killing Fields' Survivor U Sam Oeur

"Killing Fields" survivor U Sam Oeur, an alumnus of the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop and a veteran of the UI International Writing Program, will kick off a week of "Live from Prairie Lights" broadcasts on University of Iowa radio station WSUI, AM 910, at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 31. Listen on the Internet at

The 7 p.m. broadcasts, hosted by WSUI's Julie Englander, will originate as free events in the Prairie Lights bookstore at 15 S. Dubuque St. in downtown Iowa City. Following U Sam Ouer, the week's readings will be:

-- fiction writer Kelly Link on Tuesday, Nov. 1;

-- UI Press Short Fiction Award winners Douglas Trevor and Anthony Varallo on Wednesday, Nov. 2; and

-- UI psychology faculty member Mark Blumberg on Thursday, Nov. 3.

Cambodian poet U Sam Oeur was assumed to be a casualty of the Pol Pot regime's purge of intellectuals, but he re-emerged after the "Killing Fields" era, having survived by discarding his tell-tale glasses and destroying his life's work. The only manuscript that remained was his UI thesis in Iowa City.

He will read from his memoir "Crossing Three Wildernesses," about his country's hopes and ultimate tragedy at the hands of Pol Pot, co-written with UI alumnus Ken McCullough, who he met when they were both students in the Writers' Workshop.

A preview in Publishers Weekly summarized, "Taking readers into the heart of Cambodian culture with this compelling litany of triumphs and terrors, poet Oeur ('Sacred Vows') recalls his life as an adroit survivor. Growing up with his farming family in the Cambodian countryside, he had a bucolic boyhood, herding water buffalo away from rice paddies, before a 1961 scholarship took him to California State University. He attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop amid the 1960s unrest: 'All the tumult that seemed to be tearing America apart, looked like real democracy in action to me.'

"Back in Cambodia in 1968, he married, was elected to the Khmer Republic's National Assembly and became a delegate to the U.N. After Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge caused Cambodia to become a "synonym for insanity" in 1975, millions died from diseases, starvation and execution (the three titular wildernesses). Although Oeur evaded the 'killing fields' by feigning illiteracy in six forced-labor camps, there were 23 deaths in his family during the Pol Pot regime. . . . This sensitive summary of his nomadic life resonates with passion, poignancy and self-insight."

Link, who has been described as a "post-modern writer of very scary stories," will read from her celebrated second collection, "Magic for Beginners." Laura Miller wrote for, "Link's exquisite stories mix the aggravations and epiphanies of everyday life with the stuff that myths, dreams and nightmares are made of."

Link received her bachelor's degree from Columbia University and her Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She co-edits "The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror" and is also the editor of the anthology "Trampoline."

UI Press Short Fiction Award winners Douglas Trevor and Anthony Varallo will read from their winning collections. Trevor, a faculty member in the UI English department, will read from "Thin Tear in the Fabric of Space" and Varallo, a UI Writers' Workshop graduate, will read from "This Day in History."

A scholar of Renaissance literature, Trevor has published more than a dozen short stories in literary journals including the Paris Review, Glimmer Train, Epoch and the New England Review. Kevin Brockmeier wrote of his stories, "The final paragraphs of Trevor's stories are among the most knowing and beautiful you are ever likely to read."

Bret Lott called Varallo's collection, "A piece of art, plain and simple, made out of love for the word and humanity."

Varallo's stories have appeared in Epoch, Crazyhorse, Story Quarterly, the Black Warrior Review and other publications. He is the recipient of an AWP Intro Journals Award, the Crazyhorse Fiction Prize, the Journal Short Story Prize and an NEA Fellowship in Literature. He is an assistant professor of English at the College of Charleston.

A fellow of the American Psychological Association, Blumberg is a developmental psychobiologist and behavioral neuroscientist in the UI psychology department. He won the 1997 American Psychological Association (APA) Distinguished Scientific Award for an Early Career Contribution to Psychology, a UI Faculty Scholar Award and an Independent Scientist Award from the National Institute of Mental Health. He is also an associate editor of the professional journal Behavioral Neuroscience.

His research at the UI contributed to his writing of the 2002 book "Body Heat: Temperature and Life on Earth," and in "Basic Instinct: The Genesis of Behavior," he contributes to the nature/nurture debate, discussing everything from herding dogs to "brilliant babies" to "intelligent design" as he sorts out the roles of genes, experience, and evolution in the construction of behavior.

The Writers' Workshop, the psychology department and the English department are academic units of the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

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STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073,